Arab Hip Hop and Rap - 10 Artists to Add to your Playlist
By: Caroline Umphlet / Arab America Contributing Writer
We all know of the famous Arab singers like Umm Kulthum, Fayrouz, Amr Diab, and others who the Arab World worship. Their legacies are almost impossible to top. However, Arab Rap and Hip-hop is becoming an increasingly popular genre among the younger population.
Rap as a genre in the Arab World was long considered taboo and definitely unacceptable. However, over time, rappers have made a space for themselves in the Arab music industry and gained a large fan base. Some attribute the increase of rap to a stronger connection with the Western world and culture. The genre originating in New York around the 60s gained popularity rapidly. The Arab World saw more traction in rap in the first half of the 1990s, a little behind the West.
Born in Riyadh and raised in Jeddah, Qusai is known as the first professional Saudi hip-hop artist. He started recording in 1994 but did not release his first album until 2002, which is when some argue Arab rap really took off.
The topics of Arab rap songs are just as diverse as traditional songs. Artists are able to express themselves about every possible subject. They sing about anything from what they ate for lunch to cultural experiences, political statements, and personal identity. Qusai in particular prefers to not partake in political statements. He has stated, “Our number-one subject, for all Arabic rappers, is salaam. Peace. Because it’s a never-ending battle and we are going to continue singing about peace until we at least smell it.”
The political influence, however, is still almost tangible. Music has a way of uniting people in difficult times. Some rappers are very openly political. For example, Desert Heat, two Emirati brothers, rap with the intention to show that Muslims are very peaceful people and do not deserve the “terrorist” stereotype that the US and Europe have so horribly placed. Also, some argue that this genre incites violence and animosity because of the deep connection with revolution.
At the same time, it emphasizes national pride and cultural identity. This genre gives a voice for artists to express their opinions and feelings and reach out to people feeling the same frustration or struggles.
List of Artists
Here is a collective list of some Arab artists in the rap and hip hop scene. It is by no means an exhaustive list, nor in order of talent. There are countless other skilled Arab rappers very deserving of recognition and praise.
Felukah is an Egyptian-born female rapper and lives in New York City. She is known for frequently switching between Arabic and English and accentuating her multiculturalism. She is a strong female representation in a male-dominated field. The artist is inspiring to Egyptian women for encouraging personal expression and individuality. She told Millie World in an interview, “We are not bound by tradition, we are fuelled by it and moved to the point of crossover: where Middle Eastern essence meets Western delivery.”
Wegz is an Egyptian rapper who started his career in 2017. He tends to mix styles of rap such as mumble, trap, electro shaabi, and more. Wegz has grown incredibly quickly, especially in Egypt, and even titled the country’s most-streamed song on Spotify in 2020. He told GQ that he feels “lucky that [his] experiences resonate with [his] people.” He also now has a clothing brand, Wegz x Ohana, based in his hometown, Alexandria.
3. Marwan Moussa
Marwan Moussa is an Egyptian rapper and producer. He started rapping in English but after finishing college and returning to Egypt, decided to switch to Arabic. He prefers to rap with comedic lyrics and more of a play on words. Part of his influence comes from American rappers like 50 Cent, and specifically the Atlanta style like Future, Migos, and Young Thug. He also has noted his inspiration from talented producers they work with like Metro Boomin, London, and more.
Abyusif is the last Egyptian on the list and is a superstar in the Arab world. He is from Cairo and raps in mostly Arabic with some English words thrown in his songs. His songs are about his daily and personal life, as well as his struggles with mental health. Abyusif grew up with a professional jazz drummer father, who greatly influenced his love for music. His fans often raise both arms in an X shape in the crowd to show their support for him. It is a symbol he has coined because of his logo of a sad face with two X’s. Check out his short documentary with SceneNoise here.
5. Bu Kulthum
This name is a play on previously mentioned Egyptian singer’s name: Umm Kulthum. Bu Kulthum is a Syrian rapper based out of Amman, Jordan. He is known for his sarcastic and comedic lyrics, but also raps about his personal struggles. The artist is a refugee and illustrates his feelings in his music of alienation because of it.
TooDope is one of the most popular rappers in the Sudanese music scene, who also dabbles in Afrobeats and Jazz. He describes his style as, “Youthful but wise, serious but entertaining.” He originally was interested in drawing and sketching but in college started writing lyrics and decided to pursue his music career. TooDope even participated in a project with Amplified Music Group to partner with UNICEF Sudan. They release a song to show support for families affected by the pandemic. He is now internationally recognized and admired for his integrity and dedication to spreading positivity.
7. Shadia Mansour
Shadia Mansour is widely known among her fans as the “first lady of Arab hip-hop.” She is British-Palestinian and very proud of her Palestinian identity and culture. She raps mostly in Arabic despite English being her first language. Mansour is outspoken about political issues in the Arab World like the Palestinian occupation and injustice against women. She has described her work as, “a musical intifada against oppression,” and a way to express her “non-violent resistance.” Her music has become a means of bringing people together during tough times for their homeland.
8. The Synaptik
The Synaptik is Palestinian and Jordanian. His debut album in 2018 sparked his rapid growth into popularity, sending him on a tour in Europe. He also studied medicine and graduated the same year. His stage-name is actually from his fascination with the nervous system. The Synaptik has collaborated with various Arab rappers from around the region, including Abyusif, Wegz, Marwan Moussa, and more.
Issam is a Moroccan songwriter and rapper who gained popularity in 2018. He is known for being a trap artist, as the industry in Morocco is particularly small. The artist likes to include traditional North African elements into some of his music with more American beats. Issam told the fader, “I want to be able to translate and integrate what makes Moroccan culture so rich into trap music,” and that he’s reaching to influence an international audience. He raps about Moroccan culture as well as his struggles with the feeling of being exiled in Europe, specifically, the difficult border laws on African countries, and living far away from his home and culture.
10. El Rass
His name means “The Head” in Arabic but he is also known as Mazen el-Sayed. This Lebanese rapper is known for his “politically and socially charged texts,” covering a wide range of topics. El Rass studied in Paris and used to be a journalist, but decided to pursue his music career full-time. El Rass became very popular for his outspokenness and strong opinions about the revolution and certain political figures. He also expresses great appreciation for his cultural background and identity.
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